Viasat's multilayer satcoms study for ESA follows a string of multi-orbit consolidation deals in the industry. Credit: Viasat

WASHINGTON — The sharp drop in global air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic led Viasat to lay off roughly 5% of its workforce earlier this year, Viasat President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Baldridge said May 26.

Baldridge said that in addition to the 300 layoffs, Viasat furloughed some employees, froze salaries for a large number of workers, and brought hiring to a virtual standstill in an effort to curb costs.

“We took action in all series of other overhead expenses that we felt we could avoid or delay here in the near term,” Baldridge said during a company earnings call. The layoffs and other steps should cut Viasat’s costs by $100 million over a year’s time, but won’t fully offset the company’s projected losses in aviation, he said.

In-flight connectivity accounts for about 10% of Viasat’s revenue. In a letter to shareholders, Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg said in-flight connectivity has been hit hard enough by the pandemic to threaten spending on the company’s next satellite, Viasat-3 Americas.

“[T]he downturn in commercial air travel meant we needed to reduce costs to preserve the ViaSat-3 schedule with a prudent capital structure,” Dankberg wrote. ViaSat-3 Americas, the first of three high-throughput broadband satellites under construction with Boeing, is projected to launch in mid-2021, he wrote. Viasat has signed launch contracts with Arianespace, SpaceX and ULA to cover all three satellites, but has not announced who will launch which spacecraft.

Viasat spokeswoman Chris Phillips told SpaceNews the company numbered 5,500 employees after the layoffs.

Dankberg, in his letter, said April appears to have been the nadir for air passenger numbers. Before the pandemic, Viasat had been steadily gaining airline customers in North America, and recent conversations with airlines “suggest good opportunities to sustain, or improve, market share gains globally post crisis,” he wrote.

The number of aircraft using Viasat satellite internet services during the company’s fiscal year that ended March 31 totaled 1,390, up 78 aircraft from the prior year. Dankberg said during a May 26 earnings call on its full-year results that the coronavirus pandemic could position Viasat to install more satellite terminals this year since airlines won’t have to take already idled aircraft out of service to complete the upgrade.

Viasat reported $2.31 billion in annual revenue, up 12%, with a net loss of $200,000, an improvement from last year’s $67.6 million loss.

Widespread stay-at-home orders increased demand for residential broadband. Viasat added 4,000 new subscribers from January to March, reaching 590,000 in total and breaking a nine-month streak of essentially flat subscriber numbers.

Viasat told the U.S. Federal Communications Commission this month that it’s willing to build a consumer broadband constellation of 288 satellites in low Earth orbit if it can obtain a share of a $20.4 billion universal broadband fund the FCC is preparing to roll out later this year.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...